Up stupidly early again. Rob was playing the perfect host and using us as an excuse to to things he’d not gotten around to doing yet. Today’s plan was to head north back to Kaikora and go whale-spotting. It’s about a 2-hour drive to get there and seats on the boats have to be booked in advance. Also, as it’s winter, there are fewer boats per day.
We managed to get on the 13:15 boat (we were aiming for the 10:15, hence getting up at 6:30) so things were less hectic than they needed to be. Again, the weather was sucky but at least there was visibility. We took off and Rob roller-coastered us up the windy roads, giggling like a schoolgirl every time we squealed (or was that the tyres?).
As we’d been there before, we settled on the bakery for lunch and had mince pies again. With cakes. And drove along the coast a little to a seal sanctuary that Rob knew about. This doesn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere in the guidebooks and it’s free as it’s basically just a car park on the water’s edge. Seals pop up to snooze at all hours and we encountered half a dozen or so.
Most were splayed out on the rocks, but two were acting very strangely. They seemed to be doing Stevie Wonder impressions, staring at the sky and gyrating at the hips. I checked carefully, but neither was wearing an iPod. They did have long whickers, though, so maybe they were related to the tramp in Wellington.
We took far too many photographs from far too close for it to be safe (seals have big teeth and can get a little tetchy when disturbed) then drove back through the town to the whale watching pickup point. Even the speed bump as we entered the car park was shaped like a sperm whale.
A quick queue for tickets and a warning that the weather today was somewhat condusive to sea-sickness and we sat for a while to await the bus. We’d also been told that there were no dolphins in evidence today, but that whales were definitely making appearances. A shame, but animals are seasonal and it is getting nippy over here.
The short bus ride took us to the jetty where we boarded a catamaran for the 2-hour trip. Again, we were warned about motion sickness and I spotted around 10 sickbags in the seat pouch in front of me. Who on earth could get that sick? Then I remembered how large the servings are in most of the restaurants over here, so providing overflow baggies probably isn’t such a bad idea.
During the initial ride out, we were shown some computer generated footage of some of the whales and regaled with facts about the creatures. The ones mainly in attendance around Kaikora are sperm whales, nature’s deepest divers. They regularly dive for 1-2 hours at a time and can go as far down as 3000 metres.
After perhaps 40 minutes, we pulled up in an area where a whale had been spotted some time earlier. The captain dropped what amounted to a large electronic hearing trumpet into the water and we waited. Then we sped off again.
This was repeated for a while until the right sounds were heard and a whale sighted. The doors were opened and everyone plunged out onto the sides, cameras in hand.
I’ll be honest – it’s a little unimpressive. Only, though, because the whale is so far away it’s hard to judge its exact size. Like icebergs, only a small part of their body is ever on show at one time. Usually you see roughly 20% of it, and most of that is its back.
Still, to be close to one of the largest creatures on earth is humbling. It’s just a shame you can’t really get any closer, but safety does play a huge factor. We did see a video later on from one of the earliest trips out, not long after the company started operating. One whale got very curious and swam right up to the boat, running right alongside it. The boat wasn’t too happy about this – it was effectively being beached – and since then I don’t think they’ve ever got quite so close to the animals.
Only a minute or so after we arrived, the whale started to undulate in a particular way and then dived beneath the surface, his tail pointing skywards before slipping underwater.
We were shepherded back indoors, and the boat roared off to another site. And another. And another. Before we got to see our second whale of the day. This one stayed on the surface for longer then the first and we had plenty of time to take many pictures. Admittedly, they all look like a rock in the middle of the ocean (except for the ones of the tail at the end), but it proves I saw a whale!
More chasing ensued, including one stop where the whale dived just as we left our seats, but that was our whale allotment for the day. As an added bonus, I lost a little weight by making full use of one of the waterproof paper bags in front of me. Very Berry smoothie does not taste as nice on the way up as the way down. Especially when mixed with minced beef. Needless to say, I got lots of sympathy from Louise and Rob. Not.
Frankly, I was glad to get back to dry land again. I confess I’d still like another go at whalewatching, perhaps at a warmer time of year. Calmer and warmer waters may make the trip more comfortable and more fruitful in terms of creatures seen. Still, I’ve got my own personal pictures of a whale diving and I’m damn glad I went. Even if my stomach rebelled.
We had dinner in a stonegrill restaurant in the town centre (by which I mean the street with most shops on). My stomach felt better with some chicken and chips inside and Rob foolishly gave me the car keys to drive home. OK, not so foolishly as I’d had orange juice and he’d had beer.
The thing with cars in New Zealand is they’re so damn cheap compared to the UK. I’d say even brand new ones can be as little as a third of the comparitive price back home. There’s a massive market in good quality second hand vehicles as well, and until the petrol prices went up recently, the average Kiwi drove something with a 2.5l engine.
It’s also legal to drive at 15 (it’s 17 in the UK) and insurance is purely a voluntary purchase. As a result, insurance is cheaper than back home (which is a good thing) and you have 15 year olds in Subaru Imprezas wrapping themselves round trees (not so good). As an aside, Kiwis can’t pronounce Subaru Impreza. Either of the two words. Even in the TV adverts. But I’ll forgive anyone who’ll sell me a brand new one for £7500.
The drive home was fun until we realised that everyone who owned a petrol station had gone to the pub and we were driving on fumes. Economy drive mode was activated, which basically meant keeping a steady 80kmh and going down hills in neutral.
Finally, about 50km from Christchurch, we found a garage with the usual friendly staff where we filled ‘er up. Another curiosity, compared to the UK, is the way fuel’s dispensed. About one in ten of the stations I’ve seen have someone there to fill up for you. When you do it manually, you have to tell the pump what you want to do first – fill up until you’ve decided you’ve put enough in (i.e. pretty much what we do in the UK), or you can enter a dollar amount and just pull on the handle. The pump will stop itself when you’ve spent that amount.